A year and one day after bringing the Stanley Cup to Denmark for the first time ever, Washington Capitals center Lars Eller held a “Hockey Stars ’19” tournament at Rødovre Centrum Arena, his youth rink and home of the Rødovre Mighty Bulls, in his hometown outside of Copenhagen on Friday night. The event raised money for youth work in Danish hockey. European NHL players including Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Fredrick Andersen and Colorado Avalanche (and ex-Capitals) forward Andre Burakovsky were among those participating in the tournament.
The love for Eller in his hometown was evident from the moment fans arrived at the arena. An enormous banner outside the arena featured Rødovre legends Eller, Jannik Hansen, and Mikkal Bødker. Inside, fans were met with a poster inside the doors of Eller raising the Stanley Cup and another 15-foot poster of Eller in the arena with the Cup held high above his head.
The day started with a fan fest for kids featuring games, food, and a DJ to keep things lively. There were plenty of Capitals and Mighty Bulls jerseys featuring Eller’s name and number and a fair amount of Capitals Stanley Cup gear.
The tournament featured four games with two seven-minute periods. Each team skated three-on-three, similar to how the NHL has run its All-Star Game for the past several years. The Rødovre Mighty Bulls, Aalborg Pirates, Herning Blue Fox, and Malmö Redhawks competed in the tournament.
The crowd was rowdy before the teams were even introduced, with the Danish fans singing loudly and the Swedes cheering to the beat of a drum. Sweden is just across the sound from Copenhagen, and a number of Swedes made the quick trip to Rødovre to cheer on their teams. The atmosphere was more like a European football (soccer) game than an NHL contest. When the Mighty Bulls were introduced, the announcer called out “Number 20, Lars …” and the crowd shouted “Eller!”
The first game featured the Mighty Bulls and the Blue Fox, and Eller didn’t leave the crowd disappointed, opening the scoring on a one-timer after getting a perfect pass from the slot and snapping it past the glove of Andersen with just under two minutes to go in the opening period.
The Blue Fox evened things with just 42.3 to go in the period on a breakaway goal that slid just under the Mighty Bulls goalie’s glove. After a scoreless second period, the game went to a shootout. Andersen denied Eller with the blocker but Bødker slid a Nikita Kucherov-style no-shot move through the Andersen’s wickets to help Rødovre prevail and advance to the final.
NoVa Caps got a chance to ask Eller a few questions after his team won their first contest.
#ALLCAPS Lars Eller says Richard Panik “can really help our team.” Said he knows that the two have a good chance of playing together, doesn’t know him that well.
— Harrison Brown (@HarrisonB927077) August 9, 2019
Adds he’ll return to DC next week.
— Harrison Brown (@HarrisonB927077) August 9, 2019
The second game got off to a quick start, with Aalborg picking up an early goal and Malmö matching it before Aalborg scored again to take a 2-1 lead after the first. Burakovsky tied the contest for the Redhawks on a highlight goal backhand after circling behind the goal. Aalborg scored again in the final minute and added an empty netter to seal a 4-2 win, setting up an all-Dane final.
The players then participated in a Coca Cola Skills Challenge where they had to put the puck into two mini-nets and then smash 4 targets in the corner of the goal. Eller set the pace, completing the task in 43.4 seconds, but he was later bested by Burakovsy, who made quick work of the mini-net challenge and finished in an impressive 25.6 seconds. No one was able to catch Burakovsky, who skated away with the Coca Cola trophy.
Herning and Malmö faced off in the Bronze Medal game, and the Blue Fox opened the scoring early. Malmo tied the game about halfway through the first, but Herning scored again to pull ahead 2-1. In the end, Burakovsky’s Malmö squad would carry the day as the tallied two goals in the final period to win the game 3-2 and take home the Bronze.
The Bronze Medal game was followed by a shootout challenge that featured several players. Eller and Burakovsky scored a couple of goals each and would go into a final challenge against each other. Burakovsky outlasted Eller and took home another Coca Cola skills challenge trophy.
The tournament final featured the Eller-led Mighty Bulls and their home-country rival Aalborg. While the crowd was tilted heavily in favor of Rødovre, it was Aalborg who took home the Gold with a 5-0 whitewash of the hosts.
The tournament raised a significant amount of money to support youth hockey and local teams in both Denmark and Sweden. “My hope is that events like this can help to continue the recovery in Danish ice hockey,” Eller told Danish media outlet JydskeVestkysten. “So the success we have had with a lot of NHL players and progress on the national team over the last decade can continue.” The final amount was still being tallied based on ticket sales and other contributions.
By Harrison Brown